In Memory: Betty Willis Designer, Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas

betty_willis_unlvpicBetty Willis is the designer of The Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign, one of the most iconic signs recognized worldwide. Las Vegas and fans of the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign were deeply saddened by the news of Betty Willis’ passing on Sunday 19 April 2015. Betty Willis was born in Overton, Nevada on May 20 1923. Her funeral was held this morning at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Overton, NV and she will be buried at Moapa Valley’s Pioneer Hill Memorial Cemetery.

Betty Willis worked for Western Neon in the 1950s and designed the famous sign which was installed in 1959. The designs for the Moulin Rouge Casino, The Mint and the incredible Blue Angle Hotel are also part of her portfolio.

According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun, Betty Willis was inspired by a variety of design elements when it came to the Welcome sign:

Willis said her inspiration for the sign’s famed oblong design was from the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. logo of the era. The starburst at the top was inspired by Disneyland, bringing to mind a happy destination. The seven silver dollars spelling out “welcome” were to remind of luck.

An interview with Betty Willis reveals she designed hundreds of signs throughout her career. The full interview is available from the Las Vegas Review Journal here.

Traffic Safety for the Sign

As of this week Clark County lit up new traffic and pedestrian lights allowing visitors to safely access the Welcome to Fabulous Las Vegas sign. Without these lights visitors had to face a dangerous jaywalk to cross S Las Vegas Boulevard in order to reach the sign. More information about this safety initiative is available here.

Brian “Buzz” Leming

Buzz Leming passed away within hours of Betty Willis, at the age of 74. He joined Western Sign Co at 22. Like Betty, he worked on hundreds of signs including the Dunes, Sahara, Rio, Fremont Hotel, the Las Vegas Club, the California Hotel, Westward Ho and The Barbary Coast.  Both designers have work that can be viewed at the Neon Museum.

Buzz Leming became a strong supporter of the nonprofit Neon Museum which opened in 1996. In 1993 he felt a deep loss when his classic graphic design for The Dunes was torn down and its neon sign discarded.

The Dunes Sign by Brian 'Buzz' Fleming, Las Vegas.
The Dunes Sign by Brian ‘Buzz’ Fleming, Las Vegas. Image Source: www.elviscollections.com

Below, the Dunes sign destroyed. Three years later the Neon Museum opened and is recognized as the official “boneyard” for vintage neon history.

The Dunes after implosion. The vintage sign was lost forever. Image Source: Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal
The Dunes after implosion. The vintage sign was lost forever. Image Source: Jeff Scheid/Las Vegas Review-Journal

The Neon Museum opened with one of Leming’s most famous pieces, the Hacienda Horse and Rider:

Hacienda Horse and Rider by Brian Buzz Leming. Image Source: Chuck Coker.
Hacienda Horse and Rider by Brian Buzz Leming. Image Source: Chuck Coker.